Clarinetist and soprano saxophonist Norman David founded and has been leading Philadelphia's Eleventet for over three decades. After thirty years playing in in and around the city, the band found their recording groove with their first CD, At This Time
(Norman David/Coolcraft, 2011). Now, in this new release, they deliver swinging and ear-popping sounds while at the same time offering nuances, subtleties, and creative ideas that generate interest for the more serious listener. David plays a mean soprano sax, while contributing superb arrangements of non sequitur originals and one familiar standard, "Just Friends."
The spicey arrangements evoke echoes of the big bands of the past from the smoothness of Glenn Miller
to the sound blasts of Stan Kenton
and Maynard Ferguson
. At the same time the ensemble maintains a distinct sound of its own that is accentuated by shifts in motifs that suddenly alter where the tune is going. Whether a subtle humor is intended in these changes is hard to say. The funny bone is definitely stimulated in "C'mon, It's A Thing!" where David shouts out that phrase like the perennial bull in a china shop, almost as if he is responding to Woody Herman
's notorious complaint, "Caldonia, Caldonia, what makes your big head so hard?"
The album begins with "Flash Tune," a Tadd Dameron
-ish arrangement of a simple tonic-dominant theme. David's charts share with Dameron's an acute sensitivity to sonority and harmony which only a band of high caliber can bring to full fruition. The Eleventet is able to execute these sophisticated arrangements with great precision. It consists without exception of consummate professionals, as illustrated by Tony DeSantis
' trumpet solo that gives the piece a special elegance.
An eccentric arrangement of the standard "Just Friends," begins with a slow funereal beat, as if to indicate the sadness of the end of a romance and continues along strange pathways until it surprisingly breaks into romantic swing style that includes a lovely tenor saxophone solo by Chris Farr
, exemplifying his highly evolved improvising capacity. This rendition of "Just Friends" provides ample illustrations of a Norman David trademark: the use of music as metaphors for states of mind from Zen clarity to nervous breakdown
The title tune "Please Call" proceeds with a loping rhythm in an arrangement which makes creative use of the sonorites of muted trumpet, trombone at its lowest register, and the baritone saxophone of Mark Allen
, who, as always, proves himself top banana on that instrument. . Again signaling the shifts in texture, the pace opens up into liberating swing music punctuated by Eric Johnson
's artful drum solo.
"Repeat Process" furthers the alternation of swing with modernistic rhythmic patterns, which pianist Tim Brey
uses in developing a single line piano solo evocative of the bebop days. In the midst of it all, Mike Cemprola
delivers a delightful alto sax solo in swing band style. "Cancellation" features a virtuosic trombone solo by Randy Kapralick with the intense delivery of the legendary Frank Rosolino
"No One Else" is undoubtedly the highlight of the album. It is virtually a symphonic suite that takes on a life independent of the standard AABA form, with allusions to no less than Stravinsky and Bartok. Kapralick, David, and Brey all earn their keep with distinctive solos that underline the complexity of the arrangement. "Charge" evokes the movement of electricity through a power line. It pulsates with high energy. The track features an outstanding solo by Cemprola, as well as fine ensemble arranging and playing in the big band post-WWII style of Kenton, Herman, et al.
The album closes with "Short Term," in which a low register bass and piano motif becomes a repeated passacaglia bass line that underlies the whole piece. David, whose soprano saxophone playing on this CD is relatively reserved, finally reveals his hysteria by going into high level screams like John Coltrane
during his avant-garde phase. The end approaches with chaotic co-improvising which illustrates how to "go to pieces without falling apart," the title of a book about Zen mediation. There is unquestionably a Zen flavor of immediacy to everything that is happening in this album.